When clients walk into the headquarters of Cineplex Media in Toronto, one of the first things many ask is for a tour of the place. Not to peruse movie memorabilia, mind you, but to view the personal art collection of company president Salah Bachir, which is worth several million dollars. Bachir rotates the art between Cineplex Media, his condo on Toronto’s waterfront and his 8,500-square-foot Victorian-era weekend retreat in southwestern Ontario (as well as art galleries, so he can share the work with the public). His condo is home to about a third of the 1,500-piece collection, with every wall (even the broom closet, he’s embarrassed to note) covered floor-to-ceiling with paintings and photographs.
The soft-spoken Bachir owns one of the largest collections of Andy Warhols in the world. The famous lithographs of Muhammad Ali hang in his living room, while one of the Campbell’s Soup cans is in his kitchen. As he provides a tour of his home collection-with his Tibetan terrier Ella, named after jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, scampering behind-he seems not at all elitist about his collection, but someone who is eager to share, like a boy showing off his baseball cards. And while some of the pieces seem downright dark-like Betty Goodwin’s “Distorted Events,” in which a shovel hangs ominously over a steel plate engraved with serial numbers-the affable, quick-to-laugh Bachir doesn’t see it that way. “It’s not the kind of art people display, but to me it’s a tribute to survivors of the Holocaust,” says Bachir, 52. “It also shows how death becomes numbers.”
For Bachir, art is about exploring human emotion. But while his “addiction” is paintings, his enabler is another art form: film. As president of Cineplex Media-the advertising division of Cineplex Entertainment-he has, by most accounts, pioneered modern movie-theatre advertising in Canada. In 1980, Bachir published the country’s first video magazine, Videomania and, four years later, the first trade magazine for home video, Premiere. That led to the launch of Famous magazine in 1999 (see “Movie Magazine Wars,” p.34), and the formation of an in-house advertising division for Famous Players (which Cineplex Entertainment acquired in 2005, including Bachir’s 49% stake). Today, Cineplex Media sells ad space on everything from theatre screens to popcorn bags. Now, Bachir wants to further integrate advertising into a filmgoer’s night out, balancing art with commercialism.
Not that Bachir has to balance much of anything. When Cineplex Entertainment purchased rival Famous Players in 2005 it combined the two largest theatre chains in Canada. Today, Cineplex Entertainment’s 128 theatres represent 90% of the country’s entire box office, according to Nielsen EDI, and at the end of 2006 Cineplex Media claimed it gave advertisers access to 83% of the country’s movie-going public. Last August, Cineplex Media also signed an agreement to sell on-screen and poster advertising in 25 Empire Theatres in Atlantic Canada, in addition to the 27 Empire cinemas it already represented in other parts of the country. In other words, there are few movie houses in Canada that Bachir doesn’t have a finger in-a point reflected by Cineplex Media’s recent sales growth (plus 20% for the four quarters to the end of September 2007, according to Cineplex Galaxy Income Fund quarterly statements).
Such domination hasn’t been a big issue yet, say media buyers. “When they first made that merger, it certainly put us in a position where we couldn’t play one [theatre chain] off the other, which is always a problem,” says Richard Ivey, senior vice-president, customer service at Media Experts. But while Cineplex Media’s pricing has increased, the hike wasn’t excessive, he says. “Salah does have a monopoly, and he could be a lot harder to work with. But he’s not.”
Ivey is also impressed by Bachir’s social activism: As one of the most prominent gay leaders in Toronto, Bachir is vice-chair of the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research and he helped raise $6 million (including $1 million out of his own pocket) for the expansion fund for the 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto’s gay district. “When you work with people, you want to know they are human as well, and have other facets to their personality,” says Ivey. “He’s a progressive individual.”
That progressive nature translates to Cineplex Media’s advertising solutions. Likely the most innovative program the division launched is its 2007 partnership with Scotiabank that saw key theatres in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary rebranded as Scotiabank Theatres. Rick White, vice-president of brand and marketing management at Scotiabank, credits Bachir for spearheading the bank’s movie-theatre program, which includes a loyalty iniative built around its Scene card. Members can redeem points toward movie tickets and concession combos. Scene membership has grown to more than 600,000 in just one year, with about 15,000 signing up weekly. In his report to shareholders in September, Cineplex Galaxy Income Fund president Ellis Jacob said that Cineplex had achieved 90% of its targeted 12-month Scene card membership in just six months.
“This was a very tangible reward to bank with us,” says White, “[and] it blocks out the other banks from using this medium.” Scotiabank uses in-theatre advertising to reach a key target: 14- to 29-year-olds. Current movie-going audiences skew young, with 72% of teens going to the movies during the past three months, according to PMB, versus 66% of those 18-24, 58% 25-34 and 49% 35-49. The 50-plus bracket represents the smallest reach, with 38% of 50- to 64-year-olds seeing at least one movie in the last three months.
But Bachir says Cineplex Media is trying to make it easier for advertisers to reach certain demographics during its digital pre-shows and full-motion ads. For instance, ad buys can now be targeted at specific films, like, say, Charlie Wilson’s War, to reach a mature audience. It’s still more economical to buy a whole month’s slew of films, but media buyers like Lynn Mayer, VP, director at Optimedia, have wanted this kind of targeting. “There’s no doubt that heavy moviegoers tend to be younger, but there are some films that will appeal to a very particular audience, perhaps defined primarily by their affinities rather than demographically.”
Cineplex Entertainment is also reaching out to people whose idea of a perfect night out does not include Saw 3 on the big screen, with non-movie content like Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD, which has attracted a sold-out audience of upscale 50- and 60-year-olds. White says Scotiabank has used the Met broadcasts as a relationship marketing tool for its wealth management division by inviting clients to the shows. Bachir couldn’t be more thrilled: The satellite broadcasts make opera “more accessible across the country.” And more affordable. A top Met ticket in New York is $295.
But even with its dominance of Canadian theatres, Cineplex faces challenges delivering eyeballs to its advertisers. Movie theatres face competition from other forms of entertainment, including an ever-improving in-home movie-watching experience thanks to high-definition TV. Overall industry box office receipts last year reached a record US$9.6 billion in Canada and the U.S., up 4% versus the year prior. But that boost was primarily due to higher ticket prices; attendance numbers were flat. (Cineplex Entertainment’s attendance rose 24% in the third quarter of 2007 thanks mainly to hit movies like Transformers and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.)
To help boost attendance, Cineplex Entertainment is turning its theatres into full entertainment destinations. In December the company unveiled its “next generation” 45,000-square-foot Silver City complex in Oakville, Ont. In addition to 12 screens, it has a six-lane bowling alley, billiards, party rooms and video games, as well as the Cineplex Kids Club, a child-minding service staffed by the YMCA. For advertisers, a slew of new ad formats are available, including on TVs in the theatre’s 10 washrooms. “The movie theatre will be the one destination for families to go out for the night-offering the most affordability and the most choice,” says Bachir.
But he recognizes many moviegoers are just as passionate about films as he is about art, and that inundating patrons with advertising can ruin the theatre experience. That’s why Cineplex Media has cut the number of ads in the digital pre-show, and keeps full-motion ads to a five minute total (except for the busy November/December and May/June periods, when it’s increased to seven minutes). “We do have a powerful tool so we need to be careful we don’t bombard people with advertising.”
Movie magazine wars
When Famous Players was bought by Cineplex Entertainment in 2005, it was expected that Cineplex would adopt FP’s in-house magazine, Famous. Trouble was, Cineplex had a contract with Tribute Entertainment Media Group, the publishers of Tribute, to distribute that magazine in its theatres, says Salah Bachir, founder of Famous and now president of Cineplex Media, the advertising division of Cineplex Entertainment.
But, last March, Tribute’s contract wasn’t renewed and, as a result, Famous has become the exclusive Cineplex magazine in English Canada, and Famous Québec the exclusive magazine in Quebec. Bachir says a redesign will debut to coincide with the 100th issue in April, as well as the launch of a quarterly teen supplement. A car giveaway will also promote the 100th issue.
So where has that left Tribute? Because PMB figures are derived from a two-year rolling survey, they do not capture the changes in readership of either magazine, but Cineplex accounted for about 45% of Tribute’s distribution. Published nine times a year, Tribute has maintained a circulation of 500,000 (compared to 650,000 for Famous). The magazine is still distributed by smaller theatre chains, but has added some newspaper distribution, including in Sun Media newspapers across Canada, as well as CanWest’s The Gazette in Montreal. At the same time, Tribute redesigned tribute.ca last spring, and has been acquiring smaller Canadian movie sites, such as Frontrowcentre.com.
Tribute is also in the middle of finalizing a deal that would see it create a new magazine distributed in 13,000 cinemas in the U.S. The deal is with the Colorado-based movie theatre advertising firm National CineMedia, which is owned by movie theatre chain companies AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment Group. -CD
Chris Daniels is a freelance writer in Markham, Ont.